Myke Weiskopf Interviews Billy Schecter
MYKE WEISKOPF INTERVIEWS BILLY SCHECTER
Schecter: About four or five years before the Johns came, (Lincoln-Sudbury) had reached its peak enrollment of about 2,000, and slowly descended to about half the size. This school, which had been a fairly traditional school until the late '60s, became transformed-- something of an educational experiment itself. There are no bells in the school, kids are allowed to wander through the halls, and- probably more significantly- teachers have their own offices. That not only physically made possible, but supported, the encouragement that teachers received to develop out-of-class relationships with students. It's hard to divide up how I came to know them. On the one hand, I was a teacher; on the other, we had friends in common I don't think they participated in special programs, like student-teacher camping and so on. There was a lot of hanging out together.
Let me give you some context about them, and then you can ask specific questions. In my teaching career, there are various periods where I came to know very interesting, outstanding groups of students. They were definitely part of a group of students that I found very interesting and very exciting. What was very unusual about them was that they hung out in a group that was not solely male. It was unusual to have so many guys who were so interesting. I think it has to do with the fact that, as adolescents, girls develop more quickly. The guys tend to be more sports-oriented and increasingly so as we receded from the 1960's. It's rare that you find guys who want to express themselves so much, particularly in writing. If you look at the history of our school-- and I bet most high schools are like this-- most of the people on the newspaper, and a lot of extracurricular groups, tend to be female. But these were guys who were, among other things, really caught up in the written word. I don't think they knew a lot about journalistic rules, but they were definitely into being very provocative; they wrote well, [which is] unusual for guys.
They were not typical suburban boys, even then. The two Johns came from Lincoln, which is the smaller of the two towns. I think the average income in both Lincoln and Sudbury are about the same, but the per capita wealth in Lincoln is much greater-- it's more of an old-money town. The kids from Sudbury tended to be more nouveau riche and more conformist, whereas the kids from Lincoln were more counter-cultural, had an old-money disdain for wealth. It was the people from Lincoln who would be driving Volvos and the people from Sudbury who would be driving Cadillacs. That's the cultural context they came out of. Lincoln was the more liberal of the two towns.
There was this DJ in New York when the Beatles came who was doing this big hype in '64, '65, who fancied himself the Fifth Beatle. Just thinking of that as a metaphor, there was a "third Giant". A lot of times, people who are in the scene have very different perceptions (from the teachers). I don't think you can really understand their high school years without knowing about this guy, Jimmy McEntyre. John Linnell was very quiet, very thoughtful, interior, introspective person who definitely did not fit the mold of the suburban high-school student, and did not find the suburban aspects of Lincoln-Sud life very interesting. Flansburgh was much more extroverted; he was witty and clever, and I think that often that masked a real sensitivity that he had, which he didn't always let show. I think Flansburgh's a person who was very capable of being moved by injustice. He was, compared to Linnell, much more lively. Jimmy left Lincoln-Sud at the end of his sophomore year. He worked on the listener line of (Boston's) WBCN, and within two years he was the music director of the station. Even as a sophomore, Lincoln-Sud was no longer of great interest to him. He was writing music criticism for the then-underground newspaper, the Boston Phoenix. Linnell's writing I don't remember very well; Flansburgh was a good writer. McEntire was one of the best professional writers I've ever come across; again, it was unusual to have a boy who wrote that well and was getting professional press. He was an incredibly bright, smart, clever, witty, knowledgeable kid. When I think of Flansburgh and Linnell, I think of McEntyre; these were kids who were really in the avant-garde of the school. McEntyre would write 90% of the newspaper in one night; he had an enormous collection of LPs that we would go over and listen to. I'm not talking about "you should know they had a friend who later died" and that sentimental business. This is why the Giants agreed to come back to Lincoln-Sud and do a benefit for this MLK Action AIDS project; they did it in Jimmy's memory. I think that you can't understand their high-school years without understanding the catalytic qualities of Jimmy McEntyre. This is the kid who was the genius. Looking at it historically, he was very important.
Weiskopf: There are some anecdotes that I've heard from various people, such as the teacher who would give writing assignments. The Johns would write these eloquent, beautiful papers that had little or nothing to do with the subjects. They were given A's regardless, simply because of the quality of their work.
S: Lincoln-Sudbury at this time was still recovering from the '60's: Cutting was rife, people didn't do their homework. There was much more than today, a response to what a kid wrote whether or not it was on the subject or not, simply because it was his. So, that story doesn't surprise me. I used to teach a class called American Issues in which Flansburgh was very vocal; he was a great debater, he was a very lively person to have in class. There's no single thing they did that was spectacular. They were part of an extraordinary group of kids; these were kids who lived life with a lot of passion. They read books; they argued about those books, they argued about issues as if they mattered. They saw themselves as being on the cultural cutting edge. They dressed in a funky way, but there were a lot of kids like that. Because they were active in the newspaper, they spoke to a wider community of people. There's still one article by Flansburgh which he wrote for the (school paper) Promethean that I still use in my postwar class to introduce issues in the civil rights movement. He talks about some of the subtle racism that existed, so I use it as a historical aspect. It's typically Flansburgh, but it's not an outrageous piece.
W: Subtle but intellectual.
S: Right! They-- McIntyre, Flansburgh, Linnell-- were the kind of kids that, if they wanted to, could have been A students. Despite the fact that we were an open school, and many of our classes were fairly provocative, they probably didn't find their classes the most exciting thing going on in terms of culture and politics. They were two extraordinary kids who were part of an extraordinary group. They were definitely the most exciting group.
W: Did they have any problems with the other kids as outside intellectuals?
S: There used to be a group of kids called Rats who wore black leather jackets-- the toughs. They were the sons and daughters of the working class of the two towns. The population of kids completely disappeared. I don't think they would have intimidated them particularly; they had an equal-opportunity contempt for everyone. McIntyre was once involved in some drug dealing, and he wrote an article in the paper about how he sold marijuana. Somebody in the Rat group wasn't humored by it, and threatened his life. But, the other kids in school shared their sensibility. There was a way that the countercultural aspect of the high school probably supported them.